I enjoyed the Turner Prize exibition at the Ferens Art Gallery in Hull so much more than I expected to. There was only one artist- Andrea Buttner- whose work didn’t appeal to me at all, too strident and didactic, and one- Hurvin Anderson- whose work I enjoyed for its beauty, but somehow it didn’t make me stop and wonder. I have a feeling it may not last long in my memory. That leaves two artists who really did make me think. Either of them would have been worth the journey on their own.
Rosalind Nashashibi’s film piece Electrical Gaza from 2015 is an interesting watch which draws you in slowly as you realise what she is doing and recognise inferences, contradictions and connections. I watched it through twice and I think I needed to. It is a clever mix of animation and live film footage which gives a wonderful pay off at the end when you are made to do a double take, squinting to check whether something you are shown is real or not. There is teeming life, strength, suffering and love here as we are shown the offcuts of everyday life made into a kind of poetry. It is as close as you can get to being there. The camera shows you the kind of inconsequential, random images that your eye would follow while you explore, alongside a wider portrait of a crowded community struggling to survive.
Finally we come to my winner. I am writing this on the morning of the day that the actual winner will be announced so I am getting in first with my own personal award. Lubaina Himid, born in Tanzania in 1954, makes me glad that there is now no age limit on those who are eligible for the Turner Prize. Her work is full of colour, playfulness and humour shot through with serious purpose and a real cutting edge. It is both a rebuke to all those who neglected to recognise black creativity and culture- and even persecuted it- and a celebration of the strength and talent that allowed that culture to thrive anyway. Her large piece A Fashionable Marriage (1986) is based on William Hogarth’s Marriage a la Mode. Hogarth’s vision is transposed to the materialistic, hedonistic culture of the 1980s- a perfect fit- and it is all there. Hogarth’s servant becomes a black woman artist, shifting their role from servant to freedom and creativity and the countess becomes Margaret Thatcher. It is beautifully installed and lit like a showstopper. Erudite, accessible and witty.
Swallow Hard. The Lancaster Dinner Service is a much more recent work from 2015. It is made up of the kind of china that was in houses across Britain a few generations ago- all very familiar to me- a random assortment found and collected by Lubaina Himid and redecorated with poignancy and wit to remind us of the unseen and undervalued black presence and culture which was an unspoken part of that world. It is quite haunting and tells the story of slavery, without using horror tactics or pointing fingers. We get the point.
There is also a selection of framed Guardian front pages which have been over-painted to provide the same kind of witty, pointed comment on the content of the articles. It’s a nice idea and adds an extra layer to the story which has been missing. I really hope that Lubaina Himid wins but if she doesn’t a lot of northerners will have had their eyes and their minds opened so that is a prize in itself.